Typography Glossary

The part of lowercase letters (such as k, b, and d) that ascends above the x-height of the other lowercase letters in a face.

The imaginary line on which the majority of the characters in a typeface “rest.”

body text
The paragraphs in a document that make up the bulk of its content. The body text should be set in an appropriate and easy to read face, typically at 10 or 12 point size.

character code The word character is used differently in different contexts. In the context of modern computer operating systems, it is often defined as a code with a meaning attached to it. For example, the decimal character code 97 represents the letter “a”. In most operating systems today, character codes are represented by an 8-bit unit of data known as a byte.
Also see character encoding, glyph, keyboard layout.

A narrower version of a font, used to get a maximum of characters into a given space. contrast A subjective feeling that graphic elements (such as fonts) are different but work together well. This gives a feeling of variety without losing harmony. Within a particular font, contrast also refers to the variety of stroke thicknesses that make up the characters. Helvetica has low contrast and Bodoni has high contrast.

The process of adjusting the size and spacing of type to make it fit within a defined area of the page.

The part of lowercase letters (such as y, p, and q) that descends below the baseline of the other lowercase letters in a font face. In some typefaces, the uppercase J and Q also descend below the baseline.

drop cap
A design style in which the first capital letter of a paragraph is set in a larger point size and aligned with the top of the first line. This method is used to indicate the start of a new section of text, such as a chapter.

A punctuation character consisting of three dots, or periods, in a row. It indicates that a word or phrase has been omitted. To access the ellipsis character in standard typefaces, type option + semicolon.

em, em space, em quad
A common unit of measurement in typography. “Em” is traditionally defined as the width of the uppercase “M” in the current face and point size. It is more properly defined as simply the current point size. For example, in 12 point type, em is a distance of 12 points.

em dash
A dash the length of an em is used to indicate a break in a sentence.

en, en space, en quad
A common unit of measurement in typography. “En” is traditionally defined as the width of the uppercase “N” in the current face and the current point size. It is more properly defined as half the width of an em.

One of the styles of a family of faces. For example, the italic style of the Garamond family is a face.

Also known as a “font family”. A collection of faces that were designed and intended to be used together. For example, the Garamond family consists of roman and italic styles, as well as regular, semi-bold and bold weights. Each of the style and weight combinations is called a face.

The word “glyph” is used differently in different contexts. In the context of modern computer operating systems, it is often defined as a shape in a font that is used to represent a character code on screen or paper. The most common example of a glyph is a letter, but the symbols and shapes in a font like ITC Zapf Dingbats are also glyphs.

The adjustment of horizontal space between individual characters in a line of text. Adjustments in kerning are especially important in large display and headline text lines. Without kerning adjustments, many letter combinations can look awkward. The objective of kerning is to create visually equal spaces between all letters so that the eye can move smoothly along the text.Kerning may be applied automatically by the desktop publishing program based on tables of values. Some programs also allow manual kerning to make fine adjustments.

leading (pronounced: ledding)
The amount of space added between lines of text to make the document legible. The term originally referred to the thin lead spacers that printers used to physically increase space between lines of metal type. Most applications automatically apply standard leading based on the point size of the font. Closer leading fits more text on the page, but decreases legibility. Looser leading spreads text out to fill a page and makes the document easier to read. Leading can also be negative, in which case the lines of text are so close that they overlap or touch.

A slanting version of a face. Oblique is similar to italic, but without the script quality of a true italic. The upright faces are usually referred to as roman.

The technique of printing white or light-colored text on a black or dark background for emphasis. This technique greatly reduces legibility, especially with small type.

An acronym for “what you see is what you get.” The Macintosh provides a WYSIWYG screen display. What you see on the screen is what you will get on printed output, as accurately as the screen can render it.

Traditionally, x-height is the height of the lowercase letter “x”. It is also the height of the body of lowercase letters in a font, excluding the ascenders and descenders. Some lower-case letters that do not have ascenders or descenders still extend a little bit above or below the x-height as part of their design. The x-height can vary greatly from typeface to typeface at the same point size.